I am still processing what happened on Friday.
Our school is about five blocks away from the city border. Friday, a group of 12 students from one of the nearby urban high schools, came by for what turned out to be a nearly whole-day visit.
The students were working with their alumni association and their enthusiastic new librarian to build a library at their own school. My job was to give the group a tour and to make suggestions for their new space and their new program.
I was impressed with these young men and young women.
Nearly all of them are planning on college. And they are serious about building a library. Because they are juniors and seniors, the library they build will be a legacy.
As our time together passed, I watched their faces. They listened and responded politely.
It was apparent that something else was happening. Something not part of our planned program. This was no longer an information-gathering visit. This was a clear vision of inequity. And this was a mission that would promote activism.
I showed them some of the products our students created as the result of their research–the blogs and wikis; the digital stories created with traditional movie-making tools and VoiceThread and Animoto; the class Nings.
I told them all these tools are available and they are free. They looked at me stunned. And they took notes.
I asked them how they communicated the results of their research. Universally they responded: term papers. Despite the fact that these kids were so excited by the student-produced media we toured, no other channel had been suggested for their work.
We showed them the things we loan: among them Flip cameras and flash drives and headsets. They were impressed.
We talked about research strategies.
These students had never seen a pathfinder that might guide them through their research. What floored me most was that they’d never heard of databases. They went nuts over some of the ones we subscribe to, the ones our own students take for granted. They especially loved Gale’s Opposing Viewpoints.
Here’s the real shame. They knew NOTHING about our State Library-funded Access PA POWER Library.
Most of the students had computer access at home, but no school library page led them to this free resource. No teacher suggested it. This access becomes even more critical in a city with a limited number of professional school librarians, in a city with local public library branches closing.
On the bright side, I could fix this for twelve students. Several of the visiting students had public library cards. I asked for a volunteer to demonstrate how to get into the databases with the barcode on the back of their cards.
They recognized the size of our state’s database offerings.
We toured only two of those databases and I watched as jaws dropped.
They explored EBSCO’s Student Research Center, with its available fulltext access to magazines, newspapers, books, transcripts, primary sources, video, and more. You mean we had this stuff available to us all along?
They explored NetLibrary, with its tens of thousands of fulltext ebooks. They couldn’t believe that the books they really needed for their projects would be available online for free. I’m going to read a book online tonight.
My principal, who was with us for most of the visit, kept shaking his head.
He’d worked in that very school. He debriefed with the students before they got back on the bus. He discussed the digital divide with them. He discussed what they might possibly do with their new knowledge and their growing anger.
I still don’t know exactly how to process this experience. I’ve been teary about it all weekend. It is different seeing the differences from the eyes of young people.
But I know that these 12 students know what they deserve. I know they have adults behind them who get it. I know that new librarian plans to correct inequities. We’re all ready planning more time together to plan.
But I know I need to do more. So many of the tools these students need to engage with, so many of the tools these students need to succeed academically are freely available to them.
Why are we leaving so many children behind?